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The Children Act (2017) Movie Review By John Walsh

Children Act

Director: Richard Eyre
Writers: Ian McEwan (screenplay by), Ian McEwan (based on the novel by)
Stars: Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Ben Chaplin

I don’t think I’m making an outlandish statement when I say that Emma Thompson could be arguably the best British actress of her generation. I can’t think of many better and she’s certainly a favourite of my mother, who incidentally I went to see this with. I can’t lie, I didn’t know the film even existed prior to heading along to watch it. It wasn’t hugely promoted, at least not that I’m aware of and whilst she’s undeniably a cracking actress, I don’t tend to watch many of her releases, purely because they fall within genres of which I’m not a big fan. 

This film was different however, it had an intriguing, human story, centring around controversial religious beliefs that drew me in. Fiona Maye (Thompson), is an eminent high court judge, that presides over cases primarily involving children, making rulings on their behalf when they perhaps fall ill and/or have a parental figure that refuses conventional help. This is precisely the description of the case she oversees when we are first introduced to her. A young man, on the cusp of adulthood, Adam Henry (Fionn Whitehead), is diagnosed with Leukaemia and finds himself lying in a London hospital, desperately ill. An everyday situation for unfortunate families and people all over the world. 

There’s just one big, further problem for Adam. He’s from a Jehovahs Witness family and is refusing the necessary, potentially life saving, blood transfusion on principle. His parents are equally steadfast in their conviction that this act would taint their sons being. Apparently, the followers of that particular religious doctrine find the notion of having another persons blood within them equal parts sinful and unsettling. Now, regardless of me, you or their thoughts on the merits or idiocy of such a principled stance, it’s for a judge of Fiona’s position to make the conclusive decision in such an instance. 

She makes the irregular decision of going to visit the boy in the midst of a recess and immediately strikes up a bond. The pair seemingly connecting on a mental level and even going as far as singing together. This short meet and greet only serves to solidify her belief that Adam be treated. Why did she go and visit? Honestly, I have no idea, because I’m not the author of the screenplay and novel it’s adaptated from (it’s the same man incidentally), but if I was to guess, then I’d say it was down to him being on the cusp of turning eighteen, with perhaps a touch of curiosity flung in for good measure. 

Now, I’ll avoid doing a word for word plot summary, because it’s time consuming and boring to read. But needless to say, he makes a temporary recovery and everything is well in the world. Except it’s not for Fiona, she’s got personal troubles too and despite being insanely rich, respected and successful, finds herself alone and unhappy. I’ll get into why in a moment, but Emma Thompson is incredible here. It’s her film, the majority of the screen time and focus is on her, the whole thing is told from her perspective and she carries it with absolute ease. She delivers a subtle and delicate emotional masterclass of a performance. 

You feel every emotion within her at the end when it becomes apparent that things aren’t going to have a fairytale ending. Well, for poor Adam anyway, and that’s because the young man opens a pandora’s box within her psyche. His new found zest for life, his innocent, child like wonder at the possibilities she’s afforded him after breaking the mental shackles of his families religious prison only serves to remind her of how deeply unhappy her situation has became in contrast. He begins stalking Fiona, craving her company, which leaves her uncomfortable and feeling guilty, despite the relationship with her husband Jack (Stanley Tucci) breaking down, him having an open affair and work commitments robbing her of personal happiness. 

There’s a moment where they briefly kiss, but honestly, I never truly got that vibe from what was essentially a one-sided, obsessive relationship. It had more of a platonic, mother and son feel to me. Adam was seeking a different view on the world, disgusted at his parents callousness and willingness to let him die, whilst Fiona was undeniably feeling isolated. Despite that she never was truly willing to give into any notion of letting the young man stay in her home. Still, it was intriguing to see these two completely different figures from polar opposite worlds, forming an emotional bond.

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